Friday, December 26, 2008

The day after Christmas

We had a quiet, wonderful Christmas: took a walk around the Embarcadero to see a great miniature village at the Hyatt SF, played two of our terrific new board games (Dominion and Ticket to Ride Europe), feasted on stuffing, etc., slept in and ate homemade crepes for breakfast. Today was for using Christmas presents: I listened to my new collection of "Wait, wait don't tell me," podcasts, started using my new SIGG water bottle, and munched on Belgian bonbons (Leonidas chocolates). Very satisfying all around.

As promised, here's a bit more on Dec. 22's double bill (Trinity Lyric Opera) of Amahl & the Night Visitors (Menotti)/ The Gift of the Magi (David Conte):

I've always had a soft spot for the Menotti opera: it's a great seasonal favorite, very approachable, and warm-hearted. (Plus the Mother was one of my first complete roles, way back when, which adds to the warm and fuzzy feelings.) This Amahl was nicely done, with minimal sets but excellent singing and acting by all--mezzo-soprano Lisa van der Ploeg as the Mother, sweet-voiced David Kerns as Amahl, Torlef Borsting, Gregory Stapp, and Brian Thorsett as the Three Kings, and Martin Bell as the ever-vigilent Page.

Likewise, I've always had a very soft, 20-tissue spot for O'Henry's beloved tale. Conte and librettist Nicholas Giardini broadened the story somewhat, adding useful dramatic and vocal balance by giving each of the two protagonists a best friend. The Three Kings (same trio of singers as in the first half) reappear as well, with a couple of offstage commentaries on the story. Lisa van der Plough and Torlef Borsting both took nice turns as comic foils to the sweet, wonderfully-expressive duo of Marnie Breckenridge and Andrew Garland. With readily excerptable arias and duets, Conte's fluid score is lyrical and graceful, as always. Despite the lack of an actual pit at the SFCM, John Kendall Bailey and the orchestra carried out both pieces with panache, and a good holiday time was had by all.
(Major Disclaimer: most of these folks are my friends and/ or colleagues, so I'm more than just a tad bit biased.)

The thread of the Three Kings and their gifts ties the two operas together into a well-connected seasonal package. Hopefully other opera companies will make this into a traditional double bill.

What I'm reading: Finished Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie.

When I first started this book,I put it down after a handful of pages for a few days. The next time I picked it up, I was hooked. At that point, I read the book in one quick gulp.
A YA coming-of-age tale with a 9th grade protagonist who--despite what he thinks--manages to lead a charmed life. Included several great strands beyond the primary plot: clever word play and word games, stealth English lessons, journal/diary entries to a person whom I won't name (plot spoiler otherwise). Although there were a couple of less-than-likely turns of events, the twists of the plot mostly rang very true, and the characters, especially the "hero," lingered with me for several days after I had finished the book.
Also finished the first volume (contains 3 issues, translated into English) of David B's autobiographical graphic novel Epileptic. Evocative, fantastic drawing style that tells a (thus far) sad story.

What I'm listening to: Wait, wait don't tell me, Saint-Saens' El desdichado (in a wonderful historic rendition from 1935 with baritone Pierre Bernac and soprano Leila Ben Sedira, singing the French-language version--this is such a cool duet, for those who've never heard it), various Kurt Weill songs (I do love Weill), and Leontyne Price!

What I'm working on: Reger's Marias Wiegenlied for a post-Christmas service, new Joseph Marx, Schoenberg, and Weill for a concert in February.

Hope everyone is having a lovely, cozy, healthy holiday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Calder, Conte, and more

Happy Hannukah, everyone!

Late last night, I finished The Calder Game. Not a bad kidlit whodunit--and definitely worth reading.

The art history and art background are fantastic and fascinating. I've read both this and the first book in this series (Chasing Vermeer) and found the denoument of both books somewhat of a fizzle. I found myself skimming along in a many places, which can be a good sign (I can't wait to see what happens!!!) or a bad sign (I really want to know what happens but am not engaged enough to stand reading every last detail). For C.V. and T.C.G., it was a little of both and somewhere between. But I still enjoyed them...

Then this evening, I went to Trinity Lyric Opera's holiday double bill of Amahl and the Night Visitors and the West Coast premiere of David Conte's Gift of the Magi, which closed tonight at the S.F. Conservatory. (The first two performances were at the Castro Valley Center for the Arts.) More on this tomorrow as it is muy spaet at this point...

What I'm reading: Started David B's graphic novel Epileptic and Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar.

What I'm listening to: as above, plus continuing with the fun Beginning Arabic CD.

What I'm working on: nuthin' new here

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

No Northstar after all: it wound up being a blustery, snow-flurrying kind of day with 4WD + snow tires required.

We came back home in time for some tea and A Tale of Despereaux. With a star-studded vocal cast, this charming film adaption is out just in time for Christmas vacation. For those who haven't yet read Kate Di Camillo's Newbury winner, you can keep reading, as there are no spoilers below...

It's always hard to condense an excellent book into as good a movie, with some notable exceptions--which springs from the differences between the two media. Speaking very generally, what makes a book spectacular--beyond memorable, engaging characters, a plot with some kind of hook, and an interesting setting--involves sticky subplots, delightful details, and virtuosic verbiage (okay, that's a bit of alliterative hyperbole..but it was hard to resist). Because films move their stories via a series of images instead of words on a page, they can be visually dense but must be less dense a medium than books in other ways. And even though Despereaux is a fun, well-done movie--especially in terms of its enticing visual detail, talented vocal acting, and marvelous soundtrack--it also feels thinned out compared to the book.

So see the movie, but do read the book, too. (While you're at it, read a couple of di Camillo's other wonderful children's books, Because of Winn Dixie and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.)

In other news, today we started decorating our Christmas tree...a super-round, butterball of a Tannenbaum that lists a bit to the left--but it's still beautiful and makes the family smile.....

Happy Holidays to everyone!

What I'm listening to:
1. On the way home, I started in on a Beginning Arabic CD--once I was past the chains-required section of the road. It was a fun way to while away the drive. Learned how to say a few simple things, including "I want falafel," "Are you a doctor?" "I'm thirsty," and so forth. Wonder if any of it will stick?

2. Christmas music, natch! Actually, KDFC has been playing non-stop Christmas music: some chestnuts, some lesser-known favorites, and many obscure pieces and adaptations. Some are a bit cheesy, some are uneven in quality, but overall it's a welcome change from the regular seasonal Muzak.

What I'm reading:
See previous note about reading while driving...As a result, I'm going slowly with The Calder Game.

What I'm working on: Micaela, audition arias, Christmas music for a church service next week...

Friday, December 19, 2008


A blustery, snow-blow-y day today. We're going home this afternoon, but we got our winter wonderland holiday vacation...Stayed at a wonderful condo last night (Grand Residence): my husband loves this place and so do I. We might head up to Northstar--our favorite family mountain--and ski a bit before driving back to the Bay Area. Having a bit of trouble getting the family (i.e., spouse) moving this morning, but luckily there's an early checkout time here that we can't extend.

What I'm listening to: Last night I heard Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in passing...such a warhorse but it still by the Mozart master ...and still fun to hear.

What I'm reading: Brought The Calder Game with me.

What I'm singing: Audition arias (Mimi, Countess)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Being Brrr-y

Well, if it felt cold in the Bay Area at 38-40 degrees, it's even colder up here at Tahoe.

Right now, the temperature is 4 degrees and dropping. We're at South Shore, a few shivery steps from State Line. (From here, I can see the illuminated Harrah's sign.)

The air is crisp--it even smells cold--and a new snow storm is expected to blow in tomorrow afternoon. The drive here was beautiful and easy, with clear, almost-empty roads and picture-perfect, snow-laden trees. Pretty much an ideal situation: the beauty of winter without the pain...

Since my husband is working Christmas and New Year's weeks, we're taking an early, mini Christmas vacation. Not that he's working Christmas Eve or Day, mind you. On those two days we'll be at my mom's for a lovely-but-short family holiday. Nice to be together for the holidays.

What I'm listening to:
On the drive, we were going to hear an old favorite that came free on my Mp3 player, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe , but wound up listening to the News Hour and then putting a couple of CDs on instead--an old, much-loved Incubus and one by Benabar. I had brought Les risques du metier. The bookend cuts are my favorites on this CD, but I really prefer Infrequentable--his latest. Got to figure out where in the house I stuck it...sigh...

What I'm reading:
Can't read while driving (even as the passenger ;)...but I like to drive and am usually the one behind the wheel)...Still, that's one of the myriad reasons trains are so great...moving, traveling, seeing the countryside, meeting new people, and reading, all in one positive experience. Takes a little longer sometimes (not always, though) But otherwise, what's not to like?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Board Games & Valse swing-musette

I just read Joshua Kosman's excellent Board Games Issue in Sunday's pink section of the Chron (Dec. 14). Well-written and discerning, as always. Didn't really have anything on my Christmas list before, but now I do. Here's hoping that the family Santas are paying attention ;)...

Winter has blasted into the Bay Area. After a couple of weeks of beautiful, dry, sunny skies and near-60 degree temperatures, a wet cold front blew in on Sunday. And what a cold front...I even had to pull my ski jacket back out a couple of days earlier than planned. Good news for the Tahoe snow situation. Brrrr... Brrr...

What I'm reading: Finished The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Auden's translation of the Brecht). I plan to watch the DVD of Kurt Weill's setting next. While the text has lost much of its original power to shock, its biting commentary on the nihilistic push for profits is--sad to say--still relevant. A bitter tale for a jaded, post-modern society.

What I'm listening to: When I was in Paris (doesn't that sound so cool to say, except I was only in Paris for a day and a half, which isn't so cool after all?), a colleague invited me to join his family (his gracious wife and amazingly well-behaved young daughter) for a very interesting one-woman performance by cellist Cecile Girard. Working at times with a pre-recorded accompaniment, Girard played some of her own compositions and arrangements--including a setting based on Pink Floyd--plus a couple of traditional cello solos, and also sang a few songs in a charming chanteuse style. It was great. But what really wowed me was the valse swing-musette. Tres cool. She has a CD that I plan to get. Check out the fourth cut, Mysterieuse.

What I'm working on: same as before, plus Weill's I'm a stranger here myself .

Monday, December 15, 2008

Something new

I spent the last two months in Europe--mostly in Munich--auditioning for agents, studying that oh-so-beautiful-but-tricky-language German, going to a few performances, seeing old friends, making new friends, seeing new places... It was wonderful, although I definitely missed my family...Skype rocks, of course.

Before I left in September, folks had asked me to keep a blog, so they could keep up with what I was doing, and I kept meaning to get around to it. But somehow I was so busy that it never happened.

I'm back in CA now, getting ready for the holidays. But it looks like I'll be in Deutschland in January again, and I'm going to try to do the communication thing right this time around.

Hence this blog.

It's my first try at doing this, and long overdue, I know. I'll blog about what I'm reading, what I'm listening to, music I'm learning and/ or performing, and--since I'm often on the road--travel news, too. Please let me know what you like or what you wish I'd blog about!

On to the latest:

What I'm listening to: Love hurts by Incubus.

One of my all-time favorite indie rock groups. The way they use chords, harmonies, and--in this song--inner voices for vocal writing, is just so right. Incubus does rock ballads like no one else--like Drive and I miss you--but they also do interesting rhythmic and metrical patterns (Make Yourself), great angst-driven lyrics (pick any number of their pieces), frustration/ rage songs (Pardon me), more traditional hard-driving numbers (Nice to know you), and contemplative night pieces (Mexico), too.

What I'm reading: The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Brecht--need I say more? The Calder Game--the latest by Blue Balliett, author of Chasing Vermeer.

What I'm performing: Christmas carols, seasonal pieces by Ludtke, Richter, Mozart, and Charpentier.

What I'm working on: Micaela (Carmen) for performances this spring with Verismo Opera; audition rep--always fine-tuning, polishing, and so forth; a few stunning Schoenberg Lieder (Op. 2).